Paul Ryan started distilling vodka with a home-made system in the break room of the office where he worked back in Silver Spring, Maryland. In the beginning, it was just a way for him to save money and still enjoy his drink of choice — vodka neat with a slice of lime — but Ryan wanted to share his product. For the last three years, he has been operating Young State America, the second distillery in the City of L.A. and SoCal's sole vodka-only distillery, out of a loft in the Arts District.
Made with winter wheat, like Svedka and Grey Goose, Young State America's only product is called Loft & Bear, a soft, sweet and viscous vodka that retains a lot of subtle character from the grains.
"I like smooth vodkas with no medicinal burn," Ryan, one of the youngest master distillers in the country, says from inside his small facility a few floors above The Factory Kitchen. "I don't over-distill, I don't over-filter, and all that goes contrary to the industry standard."
Loft & Bear has only been in the market for a year, growing from a few hand-sold accounts at high-end restaurants to more than 150 bars, restaurants and retail outlets, from Bar Keeper in Silver Lake to AOC Wine Bar. In that time, it's won awards in more than a dozen competitions, including coveted silver and gold medals, beating premium vodkas from around the world.
Soon, Ryan will be moving the whole operation about five miles south to Huntington Park, where he recently closed escrow on an 8,000-square-foot warehouse. The new spot is more than four times larger than his current location and will allow him to install his new 1,300-liter pot-and-column still, which at 21 feet tall wouldn't fit in the loft.
"For as unique as we are being in a loft, it's kind of limiting," Ryan says. "So it's good that we're growing."
The new still would also increase production of Loft & Bear from 100 cases a month to more than 600 and allow for bottles to be distributed back in Washington D.C. and the East Coast, where Ryan's family and main investor still lives. New products are a possibility once he gets into the new space, but don't expect a flurry of barrel-aged whiskeys and rums. "We'll always stay true to what we like to drink," Ryan says.
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Ryan also hopes to turn his new distillery, with its exposed brick, skylights and sweeping archways, into a tasting room that can make Huntington Park a destination.
"I'm hoping we're ahead of the curve," Ryan says. "I prefer to be at the beginning stages of a newly developing area. It's super exciting to be at the forefront with a city like Huntington Park."